Investing in Ceramics - Engineering the Future
Engineered Ceramics originated as a department of Lindberg, a furnace manufacturer specializing in heat treat kilns. The department manufactured refractory kiln components, such as hearth plates, skid rails and pusher plates, that lined the kilns’ interiors.
By 1966, the department had grown and required more space. Lindberg decided to move the department from Chicago, where Lindberg was headquartered at the time, to a 20,000-square-foot facility in Gilberts, Ill. (about 45 miles northwest of the city). At the same time, the department was made into a separate entity, and Engineered Ceramics was created as a Lindberg subsidiary. In the 1980s, Lindberg (and its Engineered Ceramics subsidiary) was purchased by General Signal.
Originally, the scope of Engineered Ceramics’ business was to continue supplying kiln components to Lindberg. Eventually, it expanded its business and supplied to other kiln manufacturers as well.
The Business TodayAs the amount of refractories used in heat treat furnaces has decreased over the years, that part of the Engineered Ceramics business has become secondary. “Today, we still manufacture parts for Lindberg,” says Rich Kilgore, general manager. “But our inter-company sales represent less than 1% of our business.” Much of the company’s business today lies in the investment castings market, and for which it manufactures alumina crucibles, fused silica ladles, crucible liners and a variety of other products.
In 1994, the company expanded into a second building and now operates in about 55,000 square feet of manufacturing space. “We expanded our kiln capacity significantly, and our work force as well,” says Kilgore.
Engineered Ceramics has also expanded its product line and now manufactures alumina, silicon carbide, fused silica and mullite kiln furniture for the ceramic industry. One material, CZerbide®, incorporates both zircon and silicon carbide to provide an extremely dense ceramic refractory. Products include saggers, tiles, setters, girders, pusher plates and posts.
In 1995, the company was accepted for ISO 9001/ANSI/ASQC Q9001. The certification was a culmination of 14 months of commitment to a total quality system designed to better serve Engineered Ceramics’ customers and vendors.
Service is KeyBut offering quality products is only a part of the picture—customer service drives every step of the process. “Our objective in dealing with our customers is to provide innovative and cost-effective solutions to their problems,” says Kilgore. “When we look at a product or an application, we’re trying to identify the right material for a customer, as well as engineer a shape, design or product that will maximize the performance of that product.”
The company has also recently revamped its website (www.engineeredceramics.com) to be more customer friendly. In addition to product and application information, the site now offers interactive technical support. Users can seek answers to problems they’re experiencing simply by providing information on temperature, heating and cooling rates, method of support, load, etc.
The company also plans to add e-commerce capabilities to the site within about a year. “The Internet has become a very, very significant part of business,” says Kilgore. “Engineered Ceramics has the intention of being a significant player with e-commerce and using the Internet for service-related items as well.”
A Look to the FutureIn October 1998, General Signal (including Engineered Ceramics) was purchased by SPX Corp. “SPX operates under an EVA—or economic value-added—model,” explains Kilgore. “This is a way of making business decisions based on looking at not only the after-tax profit, but also on the capital costs that go into purchase or investment decisions. Under an EVA model, growth is very important.”
As a result, Engineered Ceramics is very committed to growing its business. “We’re looking at alliances with other companies, acquisitions, as well as expanding our product line into new market areas,” says Kilgore. “We’ve expanded our sales force, and will continue to do so, and are strengthening our distribution network. We anticipate expanding our product line with the objective of becoming a full service refractory supplier.”